Cacio e Pepe, Heretic Style (with Feta!)

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Solo pepe macinato fresco, per favore.

Cacio e pepe* couldn’t be simpler, right? It literally translates to “cheese and pepper.” But this is much like saying fútbol (or football or soccer, depending on your home) is simple; you just kick a ball into a net. People actually come to blows over whether to use Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or a blend of two or three of them, or one or more of them with a smidgen of Asiago. Not that I want to tar them all with the same brush, but if Italians didn’t invent arguing, they certainly perfected it.

Ultimately, you want a salty cheese that can (with a little of the pasta water) melt into the warm noodles to coat them in a creamy sauce, much the way the Day-Glo orange powder, along with some milk and butter, lovingly hugs Kraft Dinner. And, as it happened, I had such a cheese: Meredith Dairy Sheep and Goat Cheese, a Feta-like concoction from Australia. No idea where I got it; it sells for a positively jaw-dropping price on Amazon, and I won’t even link there because no sensible person would pay $14.99 USD + $12.99 shipping for an 11 oz. / 320 g jar, good though it is. [And you’re hearing this from someone who regularly uses chicken stock that sells for $7 USD per liter.] It’s possible that you might find something similar if you have a Greek market in your area, but it seems to be ridiculously expensive everywhere I’ve looked online. Fortunately, it is also stupidly easy to make, and I expect it will forthwith become a fridge staple, much like preserved lemons. Incidentally, some recipes will tell you to use your marinated cheese within two weeks. No need, especially if it is refrigerated. One blogger claims to have consumed some that was over four years old, and found it delicious. [Full disclosure: I just checked my jar, and the recommended “use by” date was December 2016. I promise to have my survivors update the page, should it kill me.] Not only does the marination process mellow out the Feta, but when you’re done with the cheese, the leftover oil can be used in a salad dressing. [What’s the analogue of “nose-to-tail” here? “Lid-to-base?”]

Bucatini is the ideal pasta for this dish, thanks to its toothiness. As with the other ingredients in this recipe, because there are so few, you ought to use the best you can reasonably afford. I even used filtered water for making the pasta, rather than just taking it directly from the tap.

INGREDIENTS
16 oz. / 454 g pasta (such as bucatini, egg tagliolini, or spaghetti)
11 oz. / 320 g marinated Feta (I used store-bought, but it’s easy to make at home)
1 tbsp. / 7 g freshly cracked black pepper, plus some for finishing (one recipe recommends 30 turns of the pepper mill at the coarsest setting)
1 cup / 250 ml pasta water, reserved
salt, if needed (between the salted pasta water and the saltiness of the Feta, I didn’t add any other salt)

DIRECTIONS
Make marinated Feta at least a day before.

Cook the pasta and drain, reserving 1 cup / 250 ml of the pasta water for later. Return drained pasta to the still-warm pot; crumble in bits of cheese, adding reserved pasta water a bit at a time to aid in the cheese melting. Combine by tossing with tongs. Add 1/3 or so of the pepper. Repeat process until cheese is melted and pepper is distributed. [NOTE: You may not need all the reserved pasta water; the sauce is intended to coat the noodles and cling to them. When you’re done serving, there should be virtually no trace of the sauce left behind, unlike with a marinara sauce.] Transfer pasta to bowl or plate; finish with a bit more ground pepper.

Serves 4 generously.

*[Why it’s not “formaggio e pepe” is a mystery to me. Perhaps someone fluent in Italian can lend a hand here.]

A Sweet Spot Between Laura Calder and Martha Stewart

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A beautiful book, in every way.

A beautiful book, in every way.

If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ll know that I’m all over exploring the unknown, from exotic ingredients like lutenitza and sriracha salt, to crazy science stuff, from sous vide to avoiding botulism. But today, let’s take some advice from The Far Side creator Gary Larson’s cow: “Don’t forget to stop and eat the roses.”

First time cookbook author Gwen Rogers is neither a trained chef (like Laura Calder) nor a multi-gazillion-dollar-crafts-and-style marketing juggernaut (like Martha Stewart), but in her new book Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill, she deftly threads the needle between the two, creating simple dishes that are simply gorgeous.

Take, as a for instance, her Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel recipe.

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

This is so simple, an eighth-grader could make it. But it looks, and tastes, delightfully sophisticated (in its rustic way).

Blueberry Crisp with Almond Streusel (adapted from Gwen Rogers’ journal)

FOR THE ALMOND STREUSEL:
¾ cup/150 g granulated sugar, unleveled
12 tbsp/170 g unsalted butter (for the vegan variant, substitute Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
2 cups/256 g all-purpose flour, scant
¾ cup/115 g finely ground almond meal flour, heaping

FOR THE FILLING:
4 cups/400 g fresh blueberries, washed and dried
½ cup/100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp/15 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp/5 ml lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

FOR THE STREUSEL: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, all-purpose flour, and almond flour and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until mixture becomes a coarse crumb. Set aside.

FOR THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, use a spatula to gently toss together the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Let mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Place blueberry mixture into a 1.5-quart baking dish (9″ x 9″ x 5″ or 11″ x 11″ x 4″) and cover completely with Almond Streusel. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until top is browned and berry filling is bubbling.

NOTE: This streusel makes enough for 2 (9-inch) pies or 2 blueberry crisps. If you only plan to make one, freeze the remainder for later use on your morning yogurt or evening ice cream. Serves 8.

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host's (or hostess') trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Simple, elegant, tasty; the host’s (or hostess’) trifecta. (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

Her Watermelon, Feta, & Mint Kabobs (pictured above) can be assembled in just slightly more time than it took to type this sentence, and yet they are a welcome and refreshing change from more traditional hors d’oeuvres, especially in the summer.

What Rogers brings to the table — quite literally — is a sense of casual elegance that’s all about making life easy on the chef/host/hostess and making life comfortable and welcoming for the guest. Her recipes will remind you that you don’t have to be a CIA grad to put together a menu that will leave your guests feeling happy and impressed, and you don’t need to deploy a squadron of minions to put together a table that looks thought through and stylish.

Ho do you like them yapples (apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

How do you like them yapples (Granny Smith apples stuffed with sweet potato)? (photo by Renée Anjanette, courtesy Gwen Rogers)

And when it comes to the book itself, the photography is a visual feast comparable to the actual foodstuffs being described. The printing is voluptuous, replete with pictures of the author and her family that would give Giada De Laurentiis and clan a run for their money. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and empowering, and worth every centime of its $35(USD) price tag.

Welcome to Honeysuckle Hill can be purchased at Gratus, should you find yourself in Beverly Hills, or through the author’s website, http://honeysucklehillbook.com.